The St. Louis Cardinals were Mark McGwire’s baseball home during his heights as player and as a hitting coach following his self-imposed exile from the game. In early November, he chose to return to his real home, Southern California, leaving the Cardinals after three seasons in the role to take the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
These last three years had been part of a major transformation, if not a rebirth, for the slugger once known as Big Mac. After being shamed for use of performance-enhancing substances as a player, the former home run champion was lured back into the game by manager Tony La Russa prior to the 2010 season.
Though he had already informally tutored several Cardinals players, including Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan and Matt Holliday, McGwire’s first official coaching job in affiliated baseball was when he accepted La Russa’s offer to succeed Hal McRae as St. Louis’ hitting coach.
Once a carefully-orchestrated process for McGwire to accept public responsibility his past sins played out in early 2010, the now-49-year-old was able to settle into the background typical of the position.
Seemingly never comfortable in the spotlight even when hitting 220 home runs in 4 ½ seasons as a Cardinal, including a then-record 70 in 1998, his new supporting role seemed to suit McGwire well.
Established major league hitters like Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Albert Pujols continued to perform well under his coaching, while younger hitters such as David Freese, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina emerged.
If the bottom line for an offense is scoring runs, St. Louis showed marked improvement during the McGwire years. Over the three seasons preceding his hiring (2007-09), the Cardinals ranked eighth in the National League in runs scored. The following three seasons, they moved up to second.
Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the NL in batting average (.269) and on-base percentage (.337), ranked fourth in slugging percentage (.416) and third in OPS (.753). The Cards hitters also batted an NL-best .274 with runners in scoring position.
McGwire’s coaching stint was highlighted by the Cardinals’ 2011 World Championship season. That year, the Cardinals led the NL in batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.341), slugging percentage (.425, tied), OPS (.766) and runs scored (762), while striking out a National League-low 978 times.
Before advancing to the 2012 National League Championship Series, St. Louis led the league with a .338 on-base percentage and ranked among the Senior Circuit leaders in runs (765, 2nd), hits (1,526, tied for first), batting average (.271, 2nd), slugging percentage (.421, 4th) and OPS (.759, 3rd). St. Louis hitters tied for second in the NL with a .264 batting average with runners in scoring position this past season.
McGwire had been offered a contract to stay on with St. Louis for a fourth season in 2013 and second year under new manager Mike Matheny, but the native of Pomona, Cal. and current resident of Irvine, Cal, felt the pull of home was too strong. The Dodgers officially named him as their new hitting coach on November 7, with John Mabry promoted from assistant hitting coach to replace him with St. Louis.